Gears and More

 
 
By Jeff Cogswell  |  Posted 2008-09-10 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Gears Built Right In

Google Gears is a plugin for various browsers that gives Web sites private storage space. For example, in the past, a big problem with online word processors was the document was stored on some server somewhere. If you were on your laptop and riding on an airplane, you couldn't access your documents until you had Internet access.

Google Gears solves this by giving such Web applications local storage. That way you can save your documents locally to your hard drive, something browsers couldn't do in the past. (That's because we're using browsers for activities the original designers of the browsers never intended them to do!)

In addition to local storage, Gears offers a few more features that assist in Web development, such as local caching of items (images, and so on) so these items are available when the browser isn't connected to the Internet, as well as asynchronous JavaScript operations.

With all the standard browsers (Firefox, IE, etc.) Gears is available as an add-in. And to use the offline features of such sites as Google Docs, the end user must install Gears. Google Chrome, however, has Gears built right into it.

At first this might seem like a bad idea. Some people don't want certain plugins. (I know a guy who refuses to install Flash on his computer.) And one that allows sites to save to local storage seems like one that people would especially be leery of. But look at it this way: Chrome is trying to redefine the definition of Web browser and transform it into something that we're already using browsers for: a self-contained platform within which we can run Internet-based applications. As I mentioned earlier, the designers of the original browsers never expected us to be using highly interactive, AJAX-based, Web 2.0 sites that are fully functional without leaving a single page. The users of the Web are allowing developers to take the Web in new directions never before seen. But in order to allow these new directions to happen, the client software must be accommodating, far more so than the old browsers that only displayed static pages and simple forms allowed for. And certainly die-hard users could resist and stick to the older browsers and not install Gears, and, for that matter, disable JavaScript altogether. That's their prerogative. But then they won't be able to use any newer sites either, and shouldn't complain if that's their choice.

What About Plugins?

Here in the media industry, we have to work fast to get our articles out, and I didn't yet have time to do a full analysis of the plugin world for Chrome. I can say that Google has a site called ChromePlugins at http://www.chromeplugins.org (that's .org, not .com). There isn't much there yet, but it appears that Google is ready to fill this site with information and, presumably, plugins for us to download.

As for plugin development, I haven't found much yet. However, that's an important topic that I'll be exploring in the days to come and will be covering in my next article.

Conclusion

I'm impressed. I'm very impressed. Google has recognized that the current state of Web application development has outpaced browser technology and that something needed to be done. And the powers of competition will hopefully compel IE and Firefox to follow suit. If so, we will all benefit in the next year or two as new browser technology continues to move forward, finally taking us to the level of Web application power that we need to perform our daily work-without being tied down by annoyances like airplanes with no Internet and bad Flash scripts bringing our whole browser down.

Jeff Cogswell is the author of Designing Highly Useable Software. Currently Jeff is a senior editor with Ziff Davis Enterprise. Prior to joining Ziff, he spent about 15 years as a software engineer, working on Windows and Unix systems, mastering C++, PHP, and ASP.NET development. He has written over a dozen books. 



 
 
 
 
Jeff Cogswell is the author of Designing Highly Useable Software (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0782143016) among other books and is the owner/operator of CogsMedia Training and Consulting.Currently Jeff is a senior editor with Ziff Davis Enterprise. Prior to joining Ziff, he spent about 15 years as a software engineer, working on Windows and Unix systems, mastering C++, PHP, and ASP.NET development. He has written over a dozen books.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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